Unhappy customers are out the door and on their devices telling their world about your winery. Many times, there are no “do-overs” – you get just one shot to get it right.
Acceptable customer service is the welcoming, attentive and informative service that we all want our tasting room staff to deliver. Staff smile when we come through the door and cheerfully invite us to taste their wines. They speak knowledgeably and passionately about the wines, can recommend a great restaurant and share some interesting stories about our wine and our wine region.
Sounds terrific, right? Sounds like exactly the type of person you want pouring your wine?
My thinking is that this is the minimum we should expect in our front-line staff.
Where acceptable moves into good and even great territory, are the less prescribed elements of customer service. The kind of customer service that the real super stars deliver naturally.
Good customer service comes from going beyond the acceptable by doing more – maybe something outside of the norm and/or by anticipating an obstacle. An example of this might be when cyclists drop by your tasting room in their Spandex and your staff member volunteers to bring their purchases to their B&B or hotel after their shift. Or understanding that it is hot now in your area and scheduling your delivery for a cooler time. Then letting you know when to expect your shipment.
It might be as simple as phoning another winery near closing time to let them know that guests are coming their way. This is good customer service.
Great customer service comes from problem solving, in the moment and on the fly. And the very nature of our business demands this type of service. We are not peddling widgets. The tasting room experience is a highly personal exchange of information. No two guests are the same; they don’t like the same wines, they don’t have the same shipping issues. Yet our business is to sell wine and create loyal ambassadors.
The only way to accomplish this is to hire great customer service people. They will quickly become your super stars, selling more wine and creating legions of brand ambassadors.
However, unless you have instilled a culture of empowerment at your winery, even these super stars may fall back to “we can’t do that!”
At Chateau Ste. Michelle, I oversaw four full-time Concierge and eight part-timers. Our group was the front line for wine club customer service as well as all customer telephone calls and emails. Quickly, I saw that unless we allowed our staff to solve problems at the source and to the customer’s satisfaction, customer complaints would continue to land on my desk and take a major bite out of my day.
The irony of this was that I frequently made exceptions to our policies to resolve the complaint and make the customer happy.
And it is well known that the more steps it takes to resolve an issue, the less satisfactory the overall customer experience will be.
We already knew that we had bright, intelligent people, many coming from established careers loaded with education, travel and interests, as well as a passion for wine, working in our tasting rooms. What we saw was that we shackled them with policies and were stifling their innate creativity to problem solve.
So we decided to change all of that. We worked on defining great customer service, then did an overhaul of our management mindset.
Our new position became unless it was unsafe, immoral or illegal (this last one is especially important for our industry), we would allow staff to make decisions immediately in order to resolve a customer challenge. Then we worked on making sure that management didn’t interfere or react negatively when they did make accommodations to make it work for the customer.
Of course, we saw poor decisions and we had staff who would quickly default to the most-costly-to-the-winery outcome. However, these were the exceptions. We used these situations as the basis for further training and in most extreme cases, as performance issues.
Our department-wide shift in attitude accomplished what it needed to.
Our super stars knew our policies and yet, they also knew they have the latitude and (this is key) our backing to make accommodations to make it work for the customer. Complaints reaching my desk plummeted; customers and members’ challenges were increasingly solved on the spot without additional supervisory layers being involved. We received terrific notes lauding our staff. And more importantly, our staff responded in positive, creative ways that we hadn't considered.